Kings Of Leon – Only By The Night

It had to happen. Before every cooler-than-thou indie scenester casts their critical ear upon the fourth album from Tennessee’s finest and deals the inevitable –  “commercial hit equals blasé album’ tag, I’ll say it here: Only By The Night is half perfect. Half promise, half fodder, half different, half re-runs, the band with the modern day Bon Jovi following misses it by that much.

Observing their growth from the shoot-from-the-hip swagger of 2003’s debut Youth & Young Manhood, through the rollicking Aha Shake Heartbreak of 2004, and last year’s indisputable single machine Because Of The Times, we have seen the creation of faultless albums and an ever-expanding fan-base. Each album has surprised and delivered on the high hopes held for these lady-killers, who were thrust onto world stages resplendent with their southern-fried, God-loving, pubescent facial hair innocence.

The Followill lads could be relied upon for the dirty, strutting singles ( Holy Roller Novocaine, Molly’s Chambers ), instant dancefloor hits ( The Bucket, California Waiting, McFearless ), and honestly talent-laden tunes even your sound-of-hearing grandmother would tap along to ( True Love Way, Red Morning Light, Taper Jean Girl ). Although a Kings song would oft-appear in movie soundtracks, late night sport news segments, and (shudder) variety television shows, it was undoubtedly Because Of The Times that saw the four hit the mainstream. On Call was a worldwide smash. And with its U2 polish and Caleb’s clean vocals, it catapulted the album into more accessible hands. However, every song on the album sounded original; each had its merits and place.

Do not get me wrong, Sex On Fire is an awesome single. However, every time I hear it (and that is a lot, thanks mainstream radio), I can’t help but hear Stereophonics’ Dakota – right down the verse’s repeated words, the soaring chorus, and the somewhat unspectacular lyrics. Anyone? But it works. It somehow seems a deceptive precursor for the album, which, bar a handful of tracks, is all very much the same.

Downright the best track on Only By The Night is opener Closer. The lilting Because Of The Times two-note guitar gives way to pulsating bass— “n-drums domination, whilst Caleb rasps about the Reckoning or the Rapture or the Apocalypse... It is as close to shoegaze without the pretension, or repetitiveness of the actual genre.

Slickly produced by Angelo Petraglia and Jacquire King, the U2 polish is revisited with the Followill’s take on Mysterious Ways through Crawl. It is fuzzy-bass loud, politically-minded (“The reds and the whites and abused/The crucified USA”), stadium-sized rock at its best. Manhattan is a hark back to their summery, guitar-laden work on Aha, allowing Nathan to plod along on the drums whilst Jared walks the bass along a long stretch of road.

I Want You is pure –  “80s Pixies-cum-The Cure storytelling, and is the only respite toward the end of the album, caught between ho-hum Notion and the almost Kelly Clarkson empowerment ballad Be Somebody that The Boss could have penned. 17 – the creepy older man cradle-snatcher themes aside – begins as a Christmas song and culminates in mediocrity. Revelry goes on just that much too long. Notion slides by without raising as much as an eyebrow. Cold Desert is not Version 2.0 of the harrowingly seductive Milk from 2004.

We are told that Caleb was on some serious painkillers throughout the duration of writing Only By The Night (the after-effects of a sibling scuffle with Nathan), somewhat explaining the lulling effect of a good portion of the album. If these lacklustre tracks were scattered amongst the preceding LPs, they could pass by.

Furthermore, had this album been released by a new, near-unknown band, it’d be a hit. This is all well and good to propose. But as an entire album, it just lacks that special something we’ve come to expect from the solid foursome. Was it rushed? If the wickedly-good B-sides Frontier City and Beneath The Surface are anything to go by, the boys still have it in them. So, whilst wishing them all the best for commercial success with Only By The Night, here’s pinning my high hopes upon a phenomenal album number five, sans the dodgy odes to Springsteen.

Only By The Night is out now on Sony BMG.